DirecTV Chief Sees Deal Closing in '03


DirecTV Inc. CEO Eddy Hartenstein said he expects the proposed merger between News Corp. and DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics Corp. to close by the end of the year.

"I think this one will stick," Hartenstein said at the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association's Spring Sky Forum here last Tuesday. "We just got put on public notice at the FCC on Friday (May 16). We're optimistic that we could perhaps even get this approved through the regulatory process before the end of the year."

Comment now

On May 16, the Federal Communication Commission said it had started the public comment period for the merger, which normally lasts about 90 days.

During the conference, Hartenstein said that with News Corp. as its new controlling shareholder — it will own a 34% equity stake and operating control of Hughes after the merger — it will be better able to deliver local channels in more markets.

Hartenstein reiterated DirecTV's guidance that it would have local broadcast channels in 100 markets, up from the current 54 markets, the end of the year.

Hartenstein said that in News Corp., DirecTV will "have a shareholder which unlike the current majority shareholder, really wants to aggressively grow the business.

'More innovation'

"GM has been a great parent, but for reasons of their own they have to focus on automotive. They will basically let us go and [we will] basically be a better service — more innovation, more interactive, more high-definition, more local markets."

In another conference last Tuesday, Fox Entertainment Group executive vice president of corporate affairs and communications Gary Ginsberg said his company will adhere to concessions News Corp. agreed to make to get the deal to pass regulatory muster.

News Corp. — the 80.6% owner of Fox Entertainment — has said that it will abide by program-access rules to make its cable and broadcast networks available to all distributors at reasonable prices.